Should Pharma Sweat Social Media?


It goes without saying that social media has a role to play in most people’s lives regardless of age, gender and occupation. As of 2022, it’s been estimated that the average daily social media usage worldwide is almost 2.5 hours a day[1]! We access social media for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being to read news stories and follow what ‘influencers’ have to say on popular topics[2]. It seems a reasonable assumption, then, that doctors in Australia are regular users of many social media platforms and stay abreast of trends in their area of specialty.  

But...that isn’t the case.

According to the findings in our So What? Research Survey of Australian Doctors with over 450 clinicians [n=243 GPs/n=209 specialists], less than half of GPs and Specialists [46%] use social media at all in their professional lives.

And, when they do, they are very passive in their engagement. Only 4 in10 doctors [GPs: 42% and Specialists: 37%] comment on social media posts, and less than 3 in 10 doctors [GPs: 26% and Specialists: 19%] ever write a post. It’s far more likely that they will just be ‘followers’ [GPs: 63% and Specialists: 68%], making it impossible to know the type of content that appeals to them.

There are more surprises when it comes to the most popular social media platforms. GPs have a clear preference for Facebook as their preferred platform, while Specialists prefer LinkedIn (perhaps the more obvious ‘professional’ choice). Twitter barely rates a mention amongst GPs [5% usage] while Instagram is not popular with GPs or Specialists.


When we drill down into preferences within specialties, though, there are some interesting points of difference. For example, Dermatologists favour Instagram as their most preferred social media channel [23% prefer Instagram], perhaps due to the more visual nature of the specialty compared to others. In contrast, Gastroenterologists prefer Twitter [32%, compared to LinkedIn at 21%], which may be due to the fairly active gastro/IBD groups and clinicians using Twitter as their main social media channel [e.g. MondayNight IBD].

Overall, it seems that the role of social media in healthcare has not yet reached the levels of use and effectiveness as it has in our lives generally.

So, where does pharma fit in all of this? Our findings show that pharma can do a lot better at connecting with clinicians.

Less than 10% of GPs and Specialists follow pharma companies on social media channels.

There’s likely to be many reasons for this. Pharma must have to wade through a mountain of compliance and regulatory mandates before even starting a social media campaign which, on one hand, leads to accurate and balanced content but, on the other, massively reduces cutting-edge, spontaneous and light-hearted outputs – things that are a major drawcard on social media.

In addition, there’s the obvious constraint of not being able to promote to patients in Australia, meaning that there are many opportunities that are simply not available to the pharma industry in this country. And then there’s the cautious approach that many clinicians take when taking in information from pharma, always wanting to ensure that what they get is both independent and unbiased. Pharma, it seems, really has its work cut out in creating compelling, engaging social media content.

So what can be done about it? Is it time for pharma to really up their game in social media and create content that draws in more clinicians? Or would pharma be better placed to go back to investing their marketing budgets and resources in more traditional channels, such as a robust omnichannel strategy that’s highly personalised to the needs of target clinicians? There’s probably no easy answer, but we’re here to help should you want to research this further!